“Gentle Giant” Buddy Baker, NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and winner of the 1980 Daytona 500, has died of lung cancer, ABC News is reporting. He was 74.
Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker, Jr., earned the nickname “Gentle Giant” for his six-foot-six-inch frame, coupled with an affable personality that endeared him to his fans, the auto racing media, and other drivers. Fox Sports NASCAR writer Tom Jensen described Baker as “one of the kindest human beings in all of NASCAR.”
The son of two-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker, Buddy Baker’s career in NASCAR lasted the better part of three decades, beginning in 1959 and competing in his last race in 1992. The high point of Baker’s career arguably occurred in 1980, when he won the Daytona 500 — but throughout his career, Baker achieved equally impressive feats on the track. He won the Coca Cola 600 three times, won Talladega four times, and won 12 other races. He poled 38 times in 700 career starts, with 202 finishes in the top five, and 311 in the top 10.
In 1970 at Talladega, Baker became the first NASCAR driver to exceed 200 mph on a closed course. And in 1980, Baker won the Daytona 500 with an average speed of 177.602 — a record that still stands, as of this post.
In his later years, Baker worked as a NASCAR analyst and commentator on Sirius/XM’s NASCAR channel. In his final episode of his show, “The Late Shift,” last month, the Gentle Giant announced to his fans that he had an inoperable tumor in his lung.
“Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later.”
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France issued a statement, made available via WYFF, on Buddy’s passing.
“Many of today’s fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storyteller’s in the sport’s history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions. But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCAR’s biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly.”
The Gentle Giant’s death sent shockwaves through the NASCAR community. Several current drivers took to social media to expres their regrets.
Sorry 2 hear my friend Buddy Baker passed, glad he is no longer suffering. RIP, Hear no1 has gone 200mph in heaven. Go easy on the rt front
— Ryan Newman (@RyanJNewman) August 10, 2015
Saddened to hear of the passing of Buddy Baker. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Baker family. #RIPBuddy
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) August 10, 2015
As of this post, funeral arrangements for “Gentle Giant” Buddy Baker have not been made public.